The Agonizing Choices or The Psychology behind Character & Class choice.

In case you missed it (how could you?) Guild Wars 2 releases in 27 days and some 23 hours at the time of writing, unless of course you pre-purchased,  which means hundreds of thousands of players will finally get to enter the land of Tyria 2.0,

It also means that for a lot of us, its decision time.

It’s time to pick your race and choose your class for the last time, and this time there’s a kind of finality to it, which character is going to be your main?

For the longest time I was locked in, or at least I thought I was, on a Human Guardian (yes, yes I know, boooooring) but I always had half an eye on the mysterious Sylvari, especially after the complete work-over they had fairly late in the development cycle, which took them from Wood Elf clones to something quite unique and very much their own, and I was very pleased to see the amount of work that has clearly gone into making them stand out as something special.

When BWE3 rolled round, I was unfortunately on holiday, but I did make it back Sunday night, and managed to get a few hours under my belt.

After having fiddled extensively with the character creator, I felt pretty good about my Sylvari Guardian, let’s face it, who doesn’t like hair that looks like a fern?Image

I ran around The Grove and the first explorable area for about an hour or so, and while I certainly enjoyed myself, there was something that didn’t quite click for me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, that is until I was knee-deep in the Olympic opening ceremony last Friday.

I was finishing up Destiny’s Edge (The Guild Wars novel) and it hit me like a Jim Duggan 2×4 to the face (ask your father if you don’t know who he is). The reason why it didn’t click for me is simply because I have a need to be Logan Thackeray, the human guardian of the novel.

I have a perpetual need to be that knight in shining armour, to save that damsel in distress and slay that massive dragon, to stand up and protect the people around me (all of this metaphorically speaking of course – I know dragons don’t exist, except on the isle of Komodo), and this type of behaviour has always been a defining part of who I am as a person as well, so when you think about it, it’s only natural that I would gravitate towards that class. The guardian ticks all of these boxes so the class choice came relatively easy to me, but as much as I adore the Sylvari, I think the reason why a Sylvari Guardian didn’t click with me, is simply because they’re a little bit too different from something I can identify with, especially after their re-design, the Humans of Tyria simply resonate a lot more with me.

Image

This whole process, of me agonizing over class and especially race, actually led me to today’s topic, why do we pick the races/classes that we do, and is there a psychological aspect of it?

For me, a lot of my personality is reflected in the classes and races that I play, I have always played defensive protective classes with a strong element of healing and support, it was never a conscious decision, I never set out to play that way, it was something that merely happened, perhaps subconsciously something about it must have appealed to me.

In terms of races, I have never been able to play anything that doesn’t closely resemble homo sapiens, the more animalistic races such Tauren & Orcs never did anything for me, I simply did not enjoy playing them, nor did I ever really connect with Trolls, Gnomes, Dwarves or Undead. When my friends decided to go Horde in World in Warcraft, I found it immensely difficult to settle in, thankfully at that point TBC was not far off and I could roll a Blood Elf, but the fact remains, I am simply unable to achieve what I perceive to be an all-important connection with a character, unless it’s distinctly close to looking like a human. It’s all about the immersion factor.

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We choose classes and races based on our relation to the theme, look and feel of the characters, in some cases it’s even because the personality of the races speaks to us, and we create that bond, that connection that is the foundation of the investment of time that naturally comes with committing to an MMO.

We naturally gravitate towards the personalities and character traits that resemble our own when making choices in MMOs, for me, the noble humans of Kryta – humanity’s last hope and defenders became my destination of choice, while for many of my guildies, other races proved to be far more enticing.

When it comes down to class choices, they too give away bits about ourselves; bear with me while I brush up on my high school psychology here.

There are distinct personality types according to Carl Jung, that gravitate towards certain playstyles, for example tanks represent a ‘phlegmatic nature’ being laid back and taking blows as they come.

A melancholy nature is largely similar to a support or ranged character, preferring to stay out of conflict and away from crowds, while still supporting others when needed.

Pure dps characters are not unlike a ‘sanguine personality’; lots of energy, straight into the middle of the crowd whenever there are others around.

With that being said, take a minute and think about your guild mates or friends, and their personalities compared to the class and races they tend to play. See a pattern?

When ArenaNet opens the doors to Tyria, this august, and you are faced with the all-important choices of race and class, think about what you’re choosing and why, you can learn a lot about someone else from something as simple, as the class they play.

–          Chronometer

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Disregard story, acquire purples or ‘Why I don’t care about (most of) my MMO toons’

I like RPGs. I think it’s safe to say that the genre has had significant impact on my life, and in a sort of roundabout way had its fair share in shaping my personal growth. That is a pretty bald statement by any account, and to some it might seem a little ‘out there’ but I think a lot of gamers can probably name a genre or a game or two that truly made an impact on them at some stage in their lives. Genres are like people though, they evolve,they grow, and sometimes the change is subtle at first and we don’t really notice it, but looking back at things in the here and now, we’ve come a long way baby.

My first true video game RPG was Baldur’s Gate, the year was 1998 and I was 13 years old.Of course at the time I wasn’t the most discerning of gamers and there were lots of things I didn’t know about the business, I suppose it was a blissful sort of ignorance I find myself wishing I still had to some extent, but that’s a different discussion entirely. Strangely enough, I hated the game initially, the reason being my best friend at the time would play it for hours ‘with me’ at his house, which really meant that he played a lot and I kind of… watched.This went on for about two weeks, and I honestly do not think I have ever been as bored as I was at the time, I even left the house and came back an hour later and my friend hadn’t even noticed I was gone. When he was finally finished with the game, he practically forced me to borrow it, and despite my protesting he kept insisting. Boy am I glad he did.

The Gibberling 3!

The game blew my mind, the amount of choice, my (perceived) impact on the story through my choices, the rich and engaging world, all wrapped up in amazing characters and some of the best video game writing I think I’ve ever seen, and the like of which I am not entirely sure I will ever see again if truth be told.

Of course now, fast forward 14 years (wow, now I feel old)  the genre has come leaps and bounds, and in some cases merged with others to create a hybrid with the best of many worlds, so looking at the past and the present, is it possible for us to predict the future of RPGs?

The world has changed significantly since 1998; I have changed significantly since 1998. and so have you, what was new and innovative then is increasingly archaic by our standards now, the bar is simply higher, and the money, the risk and the potential downfalls have never been greater than today, with some studios living a hand to mouth existence scraping by, by the skin of their teeth and the future of the company resting on the success of one title.

Another huge change that has come about is that games are no longer considered a niche thing, it’s become mainstream, and for the games companies these days it’s about making money, and money is made by making your game appeal to as many people as possible, and as accessible to as many people as you possibly can.

That is why we will never see games with the sheer amount of content that Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate 2, Fallout 1 and 2 etc boasted. The closest thing we get to those now, are Bethesda’s mastodonts Elder Scrolls and Fallout.

What do you mean 'phallic'?

Or is it?

We may see very few 100+ hour RPGs these days, and possibly even less so in the future, but something else has risen from the ashes of those huge dinosaurs of old, MMORPGs.

To me, MMORPGs are the natural continuation of those games, but it is an incarnation that is still somewhat in its infancy, but given time and a few reiterations, that feeling of journeying down the mines of Nashkel with an addled Ranger, an overzealous Druid, a nervy Warrior and a spunky Thief (Bonus points for putting names to those classes) can be recreated.

We have come a long way when it comes to MMORPGs, from MUDs to EQ, to WoW, EQ2, Rift and so and so forth, but only recently has the RPG part of the name found its way back into a genre, largely dominated by World of Warcraft and largely devoid of the elements that would classify it as a true RPG, items with stats does not an RPG make, I am looking at you Blizzard.

Oh oh, boner!

An RPG is about more than items, it’s about feeling heroic, and getting emotionally invested in your character, for some, the character is a representation of themselves albeit an idealised version.

My biggest gripe with most modern MMORPGs is that they do not make me feel very heroic, or particularly invested in my character, take a walk through Orgrimmar, New Taranthia, Sanctum or even The Imperial Fleet Station, there are literally hundreds of heroes out there saving the world every 5 minutes and they all look alike, bar the odd colour tint/particle effect. With that many heroes you start wondering why any villain would even bother trying to take over the world in the first place.

Dude I just totally saved the world! Yeah me too! Me three! Wait wha...?

Did I ever feel personally invested in my Undead Priest? My Blood Elf Paladin?  My Guardian Cleric? No.

They were an empty shell, a husk if you will, who silently ran around collecting rat tails, or killing 10 Ogres on request.

I will tell you what I did care about; I did care about my Aquilonian Priest of Mitra, I do care about my Sith Sorceror, and I will care about my human Guardian of Divinity’s Reach this coming weekend.

What do these characters have in common?

They all had personal stories that even though other Aquilonians, Sith Inquistor’s and Humans of Kryta, shared it with me, it was always just mine, the dialogue choices were always mine, and my companions and the relationships with those, were all mine.

Now, I am not saying I didn’t feel heroic when my guild and I downed Ragnaros for the first time, I absolutely did, and for at least 2 hours after that, that is, until someone else also killed him, and the next time someone else killed him, but I never became as personally invested in the character as one would expect, and certainly not to the degree that a traditional RPG would otherwise make me.

You can argue that ‘it’s an MMORPG it’s not supposed to do that, go play DDO trololol’ but why shouldn’t it? What is wrong with demanding more? More individuality, more content to truly immerse yourself into your character and its world, and that’s not to say that this kind of content would have to be a single player experience within a multiplayer game, not at all, the best stories are the ones where are a team of unlikely heroes struggle to overcome supposedly insurmountable odds but ultimately triumphs over evil, that is a heroic feel, but it has to be coupled with solid and interesting game mechanics, story isn’t enough on its own merit. Any healer who’s ever done a 5-man WoW dungeon knows that you don’t feel particularly heroic playing whack-a-mole with health bars for 45 minutes.

Thankfully, it seems the developers are starting to become aware that emotional attachment and that feel of wanting to log in and ‘be the hero’ is part of that vital player retention that they are all looking for, it’s all about hooks – and the latest example of this is The Old Republic. The game differs from the competition by having fully voiced questing, a massive personal story arch based on your class and companions who travel with you, and have morals, ethics and a story of their own, caught up in the maelstrom of events in your wake. The personal stories adds that bit of spice that gets you invested from the get go, you want to progress the story, you want to see what happens next, and above all, you care. Simply by giving your character an actual voice BioWare instantly connects you to the character you’ve made, and while I am not saying that the stories are perfect, it is a step in the right direction. In the case of The Old Republic though, the personal story has perhaps been emphasised too much at the cost of other forms of content, but that is a different discussion altogether.

TOR wasn’t the first game to do this however; Age of Conan sported a similar system, albeit not as intricate, based on your race. The story was perhaps less compelling than that of TOR but it was a great start and I know a great many players enjoyed that extra connection with their character, and I believe it is a direction that these games need to continue to build on.

Go greased lightning, go greased lightning!

In 2012, we gamers are going to be spoiled for choice. We get Guild Wars 2, Tera, The Secret World and perhaps, just maybe ArcheAge, in some way each of those break the mould a little bit more of how we are used to playing MMORPGs, and take us a little step further in the direction of our golden oldies, increased immersion, a heroic feel and the want to log in, and be the hero.

-Chronometer

Thoughts of the day

  • Press release from ArenaNet mentions ‘hundreds of thousands’ of players are getting ready for the Guild Wars 2 beta weekend a week from now. The actual sales figures must be pretty impressive.
  • Maybe Scott Hawkes from Gamebreaker.tv should roll engineer – he clearly loves setting himself on fire. Follow him on Twitter @jarimor
  • I wish someone capable would make a proper Forgotten Realms MMO (Neverwinter doesn’t count) – I am looking at you Obsidian and Feargus.

The Guild Wars 2 Effect – ‘It’s Elementalist my dear Watson’

Today’s entry wasn’t actually supposed to be about Guild Wars 2, but considering the announcement that the first Beta Weekend for everyone who pre-purchased was announced recently, I figured it would be fitting to kick off today with a little trip to the gorgeous world of Tyria.

There are a lot of things to be excited about when it comes to Guild Wars 2, most of which are the things that ArenaNet are trying to do differently to other MMOs and just about all of these have been talked about to death, the lack of a hard trinity, dynamic events and so on and so forth, but there is something far more important than innovative systems that bears discussion; the impact of breaking the traditional MMO mould on the player base.

A large part of Guild Wars 2 potential slice of the player base will have played World of Warcraft or any number of high profile MMO releases since the early two thousands, and while having a broad spectrum of experience is always good, let’s be honest here, they all play quite similarly:

Go to Quest giver A and kick off quest, return with your ten rat tails 5 minutes later, then proceed to Quest giver B.

Time is money friend!

This formula has been standard fare for quite some time, and it has become ‘the way’ that things are generally done, now we as human beings are by nature creatures of habit, and when something comes along that threatens to change that, we are always a little sceptic, like dear old Clifford Stoll when he in 1995 baldly proclaimed that the internet would never catch on (yes, it’s real, it was in Newsweek).  http://thenextweb.com/shareables/2010/02/27/newsweek-1995-buy-books-newspapers-straight-intenet-uh/

Guild Wars 2 threatens to do away with the tried and tested formula of ‘organised’ questing as we know it, instead sporting dynamic events on set timers and with multiple outcomes/branches depending on player interaction. Now some of these are indeed marked on your map in the form of ‘Hearts’, but at no time is it necessary to talk to any NPC to get a quest/event, you simply walk into the area and start participating, also worth noting is that there is no hand-in either, once the event requirements have been met, you’re awarded with Gold, Karma points and what not based on your level of participation. And here is the real kicker; far from every event is marked on your map, which means exploration into every nook and cranny is encouraged, if not to some extent required if you are of the completionist frame of mind like me.

I ❤ U

The question is, how will the majority of the player base react to this design choice? Bearing in mind, those of us who frequently read forums, watch youtube videos and generally suck in every bit of info that we can find, are generally a minority, your average joe gamer is not likely to have poured the amount of attention into this game that we have.

I predict a fair few people will feel very confused once their toon spawns in their race’s designated starting area, I recall watching a video from the very first Press Beta Event, and someone asked in general chat where the quest givers were.

While ANet have done their best to alleviate this by inserting an NPC that feverishly waves its arms at the player just as they spawn with instructions on where to go, there are bound to be players who will be put off by the lack of ‘pathing’ that we generally see in most MMOs, some people like hand-holding, and it is genuinely difficult to be weaned off the spoon feeding wagon we’ve all been on for the last 7 years.

From a personal point of view, I welcome this change, while it does not feel radically different, it does provide enough of a change that one does not feel like you have just been placed in a zone to do things for the sake of doing them, you do them because they are engaging and the process and transition between them is fluid from the get go. It makes the world seem far more alive than any other MMO at this point in time, and those who truly embrace the at times chaotic nature and non-linear progression that the DEs offer, will feel duly rewarded, however if linear and methodical questing is your kind of thing, you might start to struggle a little bit at first, so my advice is; take your old minds-set of structured questing, and leave it at the door, embrace the living, breathing world of Tyria.

Another point of contention, and something that has seen heated debate around the internet, is the scrapping of a hard trinity. By that, I refer to the Holy Trinity of class roles which has been the foundation of most MMOs group content up until now.  In order to be successful, you would need a ‘Tank’, a ‘Healer’ and typically three ‘Damage Dealers’ with assorted crowd control skills thrown into the mix (having a mage in Vanilla WoW was almost a must).

While this setup is logical, it is also quite limiting for the players. In order to start having fun, you have to a particular group composition, depending on the server population finding a good tank or healer has often been an arduous task, in part because very few people used to gravitate towards those playstyles. In vanilla WoW, Protection specced warriors and Holy Priests were rare enough that people would actually pay them to come with their group to their designated dungeon.

This is madness! NO, THIS IS ASCALON!

Anet’s philosophy on this matter is that it is not fair to expect players to feel obligated to play one class over the other; each player should be able to play the class they truly want, and not wait to have fun because a certain class is needed. To that end, every class in Guild Wars 2 has defensive support abilities and a self-heal, you are the keeper of your own health and no class can effectively ‘tank’ in the traditional sense of the word. Everyone will have to at some point take on defensive duties through support abilities such as knockdowns, stuns, snares or short term damage mitigation such as shields. What this does is, it allows for a group of any given composition to succeed, provided that they play to the best of their abilities and in tandem with one another.

This concept will likely be the toughest mental hurdle for most people to get over, as someone playing a warrior will inadvertently through sheer instinct seek to stay in the enemies face and try and keep the aggro off squishier party members, a tactic that is proven to work well in most other MMOs, a tactic that will get you killed very quickly in Guild Wars 2.

I fully expect many groups to initially fail as they set foot in the Ascalon Catacombs for the first time at around level 30, simply because the trinity is such an embedded part of most MMO vets mind-set, myself included, and it will take a lot of getting used to this new combat system, where everyone is able to do everything to some extent, and it does create a sense of complete chaos at first, but there is a method to the madness, the question is how many people will persist with trying and not give up? The real kicker to this system is that it is in many ways a lot less forgiving than most of us are used to, perhaps especially so if you are coming from a WoW background.

In WoW it’s entirely possibly for a group of three people to ‘carry’ the remaining two members of their dungeon group if they are not up to scratch in terms of skill or gear, especially if you have a good healer and tank, but the added emphasis on your own analytical skills and reading the fight, and thus using the right abilities at the right time is what is going to make or break the groups in Guild Wars 2. A Necromancer who does not clear conditions (DoTs/Debuffs) off of his allies, or a Guardian who does not reflect the projectiles from the boss back at it whilst shielding the group is a bad player.

What do yer mean 'me item level isn't high enuff' lad?

It is as simple as that, those are the kind of abilities that traditional ‘dps’ classes from other games are not used to having, much less using, even if they do have something along those lines because the healer/tank is supposed to handle that.

Awareness and adaptability is what will ultimately impact your direct success in group content, so if you are used to playing a ‘pure’ dps class in whatever MMO you are currently playing, get ready for a rude awakening, you are expected to perform these defensive duties as well, and if you don’t, well I guess we won’t be grouping together.

The final part of what I believe most people might struggle with is: Boredom.

Now, don’t get me wrong here, Guild Wars 2 looks like it has a myriad of zones and a proverbial plethora of content from start to finish, but the thing is, there isn’t really a finish. There is no end-game.

Anet has stated that ‘The game is the end-game’ which might be a bit of a controversial statement in and of itself. The most prevalent design decision in MMOs, almost from the get-go, has been that the game truly starts at max level. Not Guild Wars 2.

Guild Wars 2 sports 80 levels of character progression, you earn skill points, unlock new skills through use of different weapon types, earn trait points to unlock passive bonuses that ultimately impacts your play-style, in WoW terms, it’s your talent points.

When Anet says that the game is the end game, they are dead serious, there is no end-game raiding, or tiered gear/progression check –  the content you do at 80 is essentially all the content you did (or didn’t do) on your way to max level.  The way it effectively works is that once your character hits max level, whenever you go back to a previously visited area (or non-visited area for that matter) you are automatically scaled down, in order for the area to still present somewhat of a challenge for you, and with lots of collectables available for hoarding, this is definitely something people will be doing. Did I mention that Guild Wars 2 does not do gear progression in the traditional sense either?

That’s right, Guild Wars 2 gear is fairly standardized to keep the emphasis on skill being far more important than the gear you wear, when you assemble your team to dive into the dungeons, you are not taking the gear of a character down there, you are taking the player, and that is going to make all the difference. For those of you wondering where your motivation to run a hard dungeon if you do not get amazingly powerful gear out of it is going to come from, here is your reason: Hard tasks are rewarded with vanity items, and that is where the prestige will be for the majority of players. Costumes (skins that fit over your existing gear) and vanity items are what will set the best players apart from the rest, not their gear, because gear is irrelevant, and skill is everything.

Are vanity items enough to satisfy the players who are used to strutting around in their raid epics? I hope so, those vanity items will quickly gain the same sort of status as the Hammer of Ragnaros or Thunderfury in vanilla WoW, perhaps even more prestigious as it won’t be dependent on lucky drops or time spent farming for something, your appearance and vanity items are in direct correlation with your (perceived) skill level, and isn’t that really the biggest ePeen of them all?

The road goes ever on and on.

This is of course only the PvE side of things, there is a meaty PvP side to Guild Wars 2 as well, which I will likely cover in my next rant, so I am going to leave it here for the time being.

The real test for Guild Wars 2 is ultimately not going to be in the amount of content it will offer, or its core systems – the real test is going to be how well it manages to make believers out of a player base that has been indoctrinated for a number of years on how an MMO ‘should be’, it is a given that Guild Wars 2 will not appeal to everyone, it does things differently and that approach won’t resonate with every player out there, but if you are a jaded MMO player like myself, or perhaps a new player who is tempted by the lack of subscription fee, give it a go – but leave everything you think you know about MMO conventions at the door, and enter Tyria with an open mind.

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out ArenaNet’s Manifesto video.

–  Chronometer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FU1JUwPqzQY

Memorable Characters & Design Philosophies

Favourite characters. We all have them, we all feel some kind of attachment to them, but what makes these characters so iconic, so memorable that 5, 10 even 15 years down the line, we still talk about them, we fondly remember their lines, and at the slightest hint of a reappearance we squeal with the kind of vigorous glee that is only rivalled by excited Japanese school girls?
Or maybe that’s just me…
Anyone who has ever dabbled in writing knows, that intentionally creating a memorable character is incredibly difficult, unless of course you have a team of analysts telling you that your target demographic is really into emo fringes, teenage angst and that the ‘tortured pretty boy’ look is in fashion.
These days analysts will tell the Lead Designer and the creative team what kind of look and feel they should be going for, NPCs will be designed to purposefully strike a chord with the target audience, both in looks, personality and even voice work, it’s all designed to make you care about them, to force that emotional attachment, whereas before, a character was obviously created with a certain ‘coolness’ factor in mind, but generally these characters became icons on their own merit rather than being designed from the ground up with the sole purpose of pulling an emotional attachment over your head and scream CARE ABOUT ME NAO!
One of the best examples that spring to mind is Dragon Age II.

Dragon Age II and its character design and construction is a perfect example of this. Let us start with the most obvious one: Fenris.

Fenris, to me, is the most cynical piece of character design in recent memory; he is a quilt of every fan-girl cliché dream since Cloud spoke his first immortal ‘…’

Seph used to get all the chicks!

His hair is a mix of emo-fringe and anime style, two things that are immensely popular, there are parallels here to Sephiroth, but I will get back to that in a minute, his body is covered in arcane tattoos (that glow!) lending him a certain bad boy image, not to mention his sultry looks, the tortured soul, and huuuuge sword ( if you don’t think the sword is a euphemism, you’ve got a lot to learn).

He exudes an air of anti-authority and general mistrust, his dialogue keeps you on edge, he’s confrontational and is dangerous to be around **Spoiler alert** he can even turn on you at the drop of hat during the final confrontation, but the thing that really pulls the strings together, is the short but touchy moments that you get to see him with his guard down, he’s a little puppy deep down inside, who needs to be rescued, and who wouldn’t want to rescue him right?

Now I will admit to being a cynical type of guy, but as far as I am concerned Fenris is the perfect example of a character design philosophy that maybe tries a little bit too hard to forcefully create emotional attachment, in this case, piggy back riding on the vast fan community of Sephiroth in particular. You cannot tell me you can look at Fenris without thinking he could very well be Sephiroth’s sultry little brother. As compelling as I found his story in DAII, something about Fenris always felt forced, his look in particular was really off, compared to every other character in the franchise, you meet a lot of Elves in DAO and DAII, but none of them have silver anime hair or wields enormous oversized swords.

Fenris is not the only NPC in DAII that could be accused of being the victim of ‘focus group’ analysis, while he is certainly the most obvious attempt at grapping a chunk of the female audience, there is of course a little something for the boys in there too.
Enter Isabella, a salty vixen of the seven seas with a bosom so perky and gravity defying that Isaac Newton is still doing barrel rolls in his grave.

What do you mean 'Have I got coconuts?'

Isabella represents, in the immortal words of Bowling for Soup, the girl all the bad guys want.
She’s hot tempered, quick witted, stunningly beautiful, sensual and most importantly, gives off an air of ‘you MIGHT just get lucky’.

She is also, like Fenris, a tough nut to crack, but persistence will let you get a few glimpses of what is underneath her hard exterior, and the pay-off is there for those who pursue it.
While not as cynical as Fenris’ design, Isabella is still there to be the natural counterpart to him in terms of player appeal, she’s Jessica Alba’s looks, Pamela Anderson’s bust size and Buffy the vampire slayer’s pizazz, all rolled into one delicious overdesigned package, the main difference between Fenris and Isabella however is that Isabella fits the story, the setting even the world far better than Fenris in my humble opinion, making her design perhaps a little less calculating than his.

Those were two examples of over-designed or perhaps just overthought characters in recent memory, but really, one could write an essay about the multitude of over-done clichéd characters of today’s games, they are all carbon copies of each other, Garrus from Mass Effect is essentially Alastair from DAO, only somewhat bigger mandibles, they are both insecure at first, but throughout their stories they grow as people, and form a bromance (or romance if you’re that way inclined) with the PC, they also share a common love for one liners, which inevitably makes me think that they are all just extensions of Peter Parker’s psyche anyway in an alternate Marvel universe… I might pitch that idea at some point…

Brothers from another mother

Brothers from another mother

One could argue that the well of creativity has severely dried out behind the walls of the biggest games companies in the world, but that is a whole different discussion for another day.
So what made characters of the past, the incidental heroes, so appealing?
Let us start with the most recognizable face on the planet, Mario.
Mario is one of the best loved, and most well-known characters on the planet, his face is instantly recognisable and you’d be hard pressed to find a child that did not at some stage play a Mario game or at the very least recognise him in a line up.

Here we gooooooo!

Mario has a few things that instantly make him memorable, the bright coloured clothes, the M on his hat and a few effective catch phrases, like who can forget ‘it’sa miia, Mario!’
The thing about Mario, and his brother Luigi for that matter, is that they were never designed to be anything more than empty husks, something for the player to pour their own assumptions and stories into, Jumpman (the first incarnation of Mario) was just a guy saving a girl named Pauline from a massive tie wearing gorilla with a fetish for barrels.

Same thing goes for Space Invaders, a space pilot struggling to survive the alien onslaught and fighting for his life and the continued existence of Earth (The first Mass Effect!), or at least, that was the story I made up as I blasted those pesky aliens, the characters, and how we perceived them was entirely in our hands, it was not about focus groups, trends or demographics, it was about letting the player attribute the qualities and build a perception of the character, as well as the story, in their own minds.

In that light, Mario was a product of his time, the limitations of readily available technology at the time of course made the kind of character design we know today completely impossible, but imagine going into a games company now, and pitching the idea of making a game about saving a princess from a ginger dinosaur, and the unlikely hero being an Italian stereotype of a plumber from Brooklyn, with a keg sized stomach, a red hat, wavy moustache and a craving for mushrooms.

Our collective imaginations, and Nintendo’s marketing based on those perceptions helped shape Mario into what he is today, and a perfect example of how original design, will eventually take on a life of its own, and kudos to Nintendo for picking up on that and expanding on it.
The next pick is maybe a little controversial, but I firmly believe that he is one of the best characters to ever appear in a video game without being purposefully designed to appeal to anyone.
Enter Minsc, of Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 fame.

GO FOR THE EYES BOO, GO FOR THE EYES! RAAAARRRRGHGHH!

To those of you who might not know who Minsc is, he is an NPC and potential party member from Bioware and Black Isle’s late 90s masterpiece.
The player meets Minsc in the sleepy mining town of Nashkel, Minsc will engage the player upon approach and ask for help in fulfilling his Dhajamma (rite of passage to manhood), which is not original nor particularly ground breaking for a character in an RPG.

Minsc however initiates dialogue by talking to his hamster, Boo, and agrees with the hamster’s assessment that your group looks strong enough to help him in his quest, upon further talking to Minsc, he reveals that Boo is in fact a Miniature Giant Space Hamster, who helps him deal with hard moral choices. Over the course of the game it becomes very obvious that Minsc is a complete nut-job, a good hearted and good natured nut-job, but a nut-job no less.

Minsc’s dialogue is incredibly well written; he’s got a unique personality and quite often interjects with some of the best one-liners I have ever witnessed. His personality and trademark quotes made a character that was never meant to be anything more than comic relief in an otherwise grim fantasy setting take on a life of its own, and Minsc has since gone on to become a cult video game hero, his eternal partner Boo the Hamster has likewise obtained close to cult status, in fact, you can meet Boo in Mass Effect 2 and 3, he even ‘winks at you knowingly’.

The point of this spiel being that Minsc was never designed to please someone, or appeal to a certain demographic, like Mario he obtained cult status by being something quite unique and dare I say somewhat original, despite his obvious comedic status in a grim game, it was entirely feasible that he said and did the things he did because he’d simply taken one too many mace blows to the head. He was never created please a certain group, he just simply ‘was’.

That’s the authenticity that I feel is lacking in many games now, that creative original spark that genuinely makes you care as opposed to the ones that are designed to make you care.

So to round all of this off, I am going to give you my top 5 of ‘genuine’ characters.

  1. Minsc (Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2)
  2. Mario
  3. Morte (Planescape: Torment)
  4. Link
  5. Megaman

That was my top 5, what’s yours and what makes them iconic and important to you?

-Chronometer